I, Vampire by Michael Romkey (Random House 1990).
Ghosts are scarier than diseases. Most diseases and medical conditions, even the deadly ones, can be cured or controlled by the scientific method. But a ghost or supernatural being is, by definition, beyond our ability to comprehend or counteract.
Which is why horror authors who treat vampirism as a disease make a mistake. If the need to suck blood is a condition akin to polio, then charitable fundraisers and research by the pharma companies should put a stake through the heart of the disorder. If the virus that causes extended fangs and an aversion to sunlight is nettlesome, then stage a benefit concert (after sundown) and select a color for the ribbons and wristbands. As much as no one wants to fall ill, we have a routine for addressing diseases, and we are confident that, with enough time and resources, every condition will be treatable. Thus, the medicalization of vampirism reduces an undead ghoul into a sympathetic charity case waiting for a cure.
It takes author Michael Romkey half of I, Vampire to recover from this initial misstep (just as it took George Lucas two films to recover from his ill-conceived explanation of The Force as the product of microscopic "midi-chlorians"). The classical elements of the vampire myth -- the need for others' blood, the increased strength, the nocturnal lurking, the three bites needed to transform a victim -- are explained by Romkey in terms of viral load and cellular regeneration. It's as haunting and mysterious as providing a specimen at your doctor's office.
David Parker, an accomplished pianist who played it safe and became a successful but unhappy Chicago attorney, steals into a hotel lounge one evening to render a final performance and then kill himself. He is stopped from suicide by his audience of one, Tatiana, a striking Russian woman with Old World grace and regal bearing.
Tatiana is revealed to be Grand Duchess Tatiana Nicolaievna Romanov of the Russian imperial house. Although she was shot by Bolsheviks on July 18, 1918, along with the rest of her family, she survived because she had already become a vampire -- which is also why she still looked ravishing in the late 1980s.
Parker agrees to become a vampire, more to pursue his lust for Tatiana than any other reason, and learns that, as the newest recruit, he is in the cross fire of a vampire war. The Illuminati represent the best of their species, many of whom were brilliant and accomplished men and women when they were human. Mozart, da Vinci, Jefferson -- all are now vampires.
The Illuminati struggle against the evil vampires, led by Cesare Borgia and his lieutenant, Jack the Ripper. These vampires, many of whom are royalists or former Nazis, seek to overthrow the governments of Western Europe and establish a totalitarian monarchy, with succession limited to those with their genetically superior bloodline.
That's more like it! Ancient European palaces instead of hematology laboratories. Royal peerage charts instead of genome maps.
Vampires are an anachronism. They wilt under the light of the modern day, and their fictional existence is incompatible with science. In reality, C.S.I. and the profilers would quickly identify anyone who had to commit so many murders. Vampires belong in the past and, if one were to surface today, his or her thoughts and actions would be of another century.
Anne Rice understands this, which is why her vampires tend to die not from violence but at the hands of modernity. "The world changes. We do not. Therein lies the irony that finally kills us," said Armand in Interview With The Vampire.
I, Vampire is better than its overused premise of good vampires v. bad vampires would suggest. The evil vampires would naturally gravitate toward a totalitarian state and would seek to impose it upon others. It's the environment in which they would be most comfortable.
Makes you wonder why there are so few photographs of Kim Jong Il strolling through North Korea on a sunny day.